AO: Alex & Zoe vamos responsibly
Thursday afternoon, we (@zoejrogers & @Beau27) set off to vamos responsibly at the Bacardi event in St Kilda. Friends and family texted alerts and Rafa helpfully gave a time and location for the Bacardi event on his Facebook. Even though we were really busy moving (it literally looks like a moving van vomited into our house!) we definitely didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see Rafa for the first time in 2012. It seemed like a great chance to see an off-court Rafa-in-the-wild. Plus it never hurts to be reminded to drink responsibly ;)
The tennis gods (promotional event gods?) smiled down on us, as we were lucky enough for the event to start around 6pm, so we had some traveling time to get to the venue. I made sure to lug my camera around all day in the hopes I could get a few pictures. We hopped on the tram, feverishly hoping Rafa would be on his usual relaxed Mallorcan style timetable and give us a little extra breathing room to get there before we missed anything. On our way, we saw a KIA car with AO officials driving, but no Rafa though!
We arrived at the Encore in St Kilda, which is right by the beach. Hilariously we strode confidently up to the front door where we were swiftly met with a security guard who looked like he was steeling himself for Rafa fan-girl onslaught. As it was an invitation-only event, we could not go into the venue, but the security guard kindly said, “Rafa will be out in about 10 mins, so head around to the back”. I think they saw the glint in the eyes of two crazed Rafa fans and realized we were about to bull doze our way into the building, dress code and invitation or not! Sure enough, we turned the corner and arrived at an area outside with some other fans. There were barriers set up around the building presumably where Rafa would come out to see the fans after his press conference. There was lots of ‘windy’ but quite sunny and a good atmosphere by the beach.
Now , a quick note about the crowd – this particular one was really crowd was one of the best I’ve experienced. There were not a huge amount of people, and no pushing and shoving. The people in front of me right by the barrier moved aside so I could stand next to them. Some really lovely fans in the crowd had even brought the front page of the Herald Sun from 2009 showing a picture of Rafa’s winning moment for him to sign! Unfortunately, neither of us had more than a scrap of paper for him to sign… will have to be better prepared next time! While we were waiting, we decided to divide and conquer. I took my camera out and went to a different spot, and my sister took some pictures with her phone.
We could see through the big window Rafa doing his press conference, and then he came down to a tennis table right by the window and played some miniature tennis (left handed!) had some photos taken. Even through the window you could see Rafa was all smiles and looked like he was enjoying himself. After he played a brief bout of table tennis inside, he emerged from the building wearing a blue polo and jeans. He came out followed by a mob of photographers/videographers who selfishly blocked the view of the fans who were trying to take photos. I of course was madly trying to get pictures – which is difficult because you’re trying to get the camera to focus on him, he’s moving, people are jostling you or accidentally getting their hair in the photo (especially as it was so windy!). I managed to get a few lovely photos of smiling Rafa, (even though I’m really not much of a photographer, I sort of point, focus and shoot and hope for the best!) Rafa’s hair was being gently ruffled by the wind, and he was smiling so much. The dimples were out in full force!! I’m always slightly shocked to see that he’s much taller and slimmer in person than he is in photos or on the TV. I also really liked seeing him in a more relaxed environment, where he seems like he’s just having fun. He signed some tennis balls which he hit into the crowd and worked his way from one end of the barrier to the other saying hi to everyone and signing a few things. It was so nice to be at this event, which felt quite small and intimate compared with other times we have seen him, even at AO practices! He did take his time to walk around and had a lovely soft spoken voice. He took the time to speak to a little kid which was super sweet. People around were calling out good luck for next week and wishing him all the best. It was really nice how he responded to people, at one point when he was near me at the railing he said “gracias amigos!” and shook people’s hands.
Definitely felt starstruck when he walked by! He was smiling the whole time and chatting to people. He seemed to be in a great mood, wonder if he had just enjoyed a Berry Smash?! (in moderation of course) He signed a couple of things and they took of a photo of him with the crowd, but he did not sign a whole lot and not a chance to really get a photo with him. He looked really well, had a healthy glow about him, and of course all those smiles! He just seems to be such a genuine person and so polite to everyone even though he must tire of the endless crowds and autograph signings! Definitely a special moment to kick off the next two weeks of live tennis!
After the event was over, Rafa headed back inside so we moved out to the front and waited until Rafa left in his Kia. At that time, the light was not so good and we just got a couple more pictures. Sometimes it’s also good to put the camera down and focus on enjoying the experience, taking the ‘mental pictures’. The crowd was pretty good with him, and no one did anything crazy or stupid which meant there was nice atmosphere throughout (Last year at an AO practice session one girl tried to grab his hand, which sort of scared him a bit, so glad the crowd behaved themselves here! Hate when one person ruins it for everyone else).
It was amazing to get our first glimpse of Rafa in 2012 and really excited for what next two weeks will bring. Vamos Rafa!!